I was reading Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs, and Women today; I’ve read her Cyborg Manifesto before, but not the rest of the book, which, it turns out, is absolutely fantastic. The much more detailed engagement with the recent history of science is extremely useful, particularly her discussion of the shift in epistemes in biology from a pre-war approach based on engineering, to a post-war approach based on cybernetics and information theory. I find the idea of cybernetics as the post-war episteme particularly interesting because of the vital but frequently occluded importance of cybernetics to the development of political science as an independent discipline in the 50s and 60s. Where else might we find this cybernetic grid of concepts? And, are we still living in a cybernetic era? Haraway suggests that the feedback systems of cybernetics have been replaced by the strategic decision making of game theory.
This discussion of the relationship between biology and capitalist ideology reminded me of the Natural History Museum’s Darwin exhibition, which I went to see in London over Christmas. While the connection between Darwinian evolution and a Malthusian economy of scarcity and competition is often remarked on and fairly obvious, there are other ways of construing the capitalist economy that also have interesting parallels with Darwin’s understanding of evolution. What struck me at the Darwin exhibition was the importance of abundance. What caused Darwin to look for an alternative to a religious account of creation was the huge number of subtly different species he encounted. This struck him as excessive: why would God have created so many species? Doubtless one reason this occurred is because a 19th century scientist was in a position, unlike most people throughout history, had the opportunity to travel the world and see a greater variety of animals than would usually be seen. But I wonder, too, if Darwin’s ability to see the excessive creativity of biology wasn’t also due to the unprecedented productivity of industrial capitalism.